Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Are you a Leadership Coach or a Commentator?

Being the passive Dallas Cowboys fan that I am, I have gotten frustrated when they blow a lead or fail to make the playoffs for the third year in a row.  What's worse is that it has been extremely frustrating to not see them in the Super Bowl since Jimmy Johnson set Barry Switzer up for success.  Needless to say, I have a lot of suggestions for Jerry Jones.  But hey, who doesn't.  Go to your Twitter feed or Facebook and you will find 1 million commentators using their infinite wisdom gained from years of yelling at the TV from their Lazy-Boy recliner.  And if that's not good enough, turn on the radio, ESPN, or NFL channel, and talking heads with lots more wisdom than you or me are weighing in on why the Cowboys just can't get it done.

Sure, it's real easy to pick apart Tony Romo's decisions in slow motion after we have had time to study the defense and their blitz package frame by frame.  After we have had 5 minutes to dissect 2 seconds frozen in time, it's real easy to blame Tony for not picking up that critical first down with no time left on the clock.  It's easy because anyone can pick apart history after it has already happened.  Commentators get paid tons of money to criticize plays that coaches (who get paid tons more money) design on the fly in the heat of battle.  The point is this.  Anyone can be a commentator and criticize their team, but only a select few are capable of coaching their team to victory.

Photo Courtesy of
Via Pinterest

Add your Leadership to this Analogy

There are 2 types of leaders:  coaches and commentators.  Coaches lead their players to victory, and commentators tell others why the players won the game or screwed it up.  Here are just a few things that makes your leadership more like a coach or a commentator.


  • Prepare their players to be victorious.
  • Praise the team for the win.
  • Take the blame for the loss.
  • Capitalize on mistakes as learning opportunities for growth.
  • Use performance data to find strengths in individual players to improve the team as a whole.
  • Use results to prepare for the next opponent.
  • Have meaningful relationships with their players.


  • Question players why the game was won or lost.
  • Praise the team for the win.
  • Blame the team for the loss.
  • Magnify mistakes as reasons for failure.
  • Use performance data to praise winners and criticize losers.
  • Review results to promote winners and vilify losers.
  • Have superficial relationships with players from a distance.
Coaches are proactive.  They move their teams forward, and they do that by building strong relationships bound by strong structures for working together. Commentators don't build anything, and they criticize everything.  In short, leaders consciously choose to be proactive or reactive.  They choose to build for the future or criticize the present.  As leaders, we have a choice.  We can spend our time coaching our organizations for the future or criticizing them for the current place that they are.  

I don't know about you, but I choose to coach for the future.  I can't do anything about the results of the past.  I can't bring back the glory days, but I can make new glory days.  I can criticize the Dallas Cowboys all I want to, but I, as a commentator, have no power.  Only Jerry Jones and the Cowboys organization have the power to make change.  (That's a suggestion, Jerry!) The same goes for leadership. You can criticize your organization all you want to, but the only person that can improve the organization is you, the leader.  If you're the leader, move from the reactive mode of commentating and into the proactive mode of coaching.  If you're not the leader, quit commentating on the leader's performance and start helping the leader by being proactive.  If you can stay away from commentating and commit to coaching, you may just find that your efforts will take your team back to the Super Bowl.

The choice is yours...

Friday, December 27, 2013

5 Ways to Find your Roar in 1-4

Christmas is over, and it's time to make those New Year's Resolutions. I know, I know. You're thinking, "What's the point?"  Resolutions never work. You feel guilty in January for making it in the first place so you start hitting at it, and by February, it fades into oblivion. Why do you think most workout joints turn into ghost towns in February?

Here's the reason. Permanent results require permanent changes. Unless we're committed to behaving differently, we can't really expect resolutions to have all that much effect on us. Resolutions require a little bit more than words of aspiration. They need a detailed plan of action which describes the behaviors that we will exhibit on our quest to achieve the desired outcome. 


I always connect with motivational songs, and Katy Perry's song, "Roar", is a great motivator. The beat is catchy, and the lyrics are inspiring. The lyrics to the chorus represent exactly what every mindset needs to commit to a New Year's resolution. 

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire. 
'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar. 

Louder, louder than a lion. 
'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar. 


So How Does This Apply to Me?

If you're wondering how you can make that New Year's Resolution actually come to fruition, here's 5 ways to help you find your "Roar in 1-4". 

1.  Set a Specific and Attainable Goal
Define in specific and attainable terms the person that you would like to become in 2014.

  • What specifically do you want to be better at in your leadership, your health, your personal life or all 3? 
  • What will you be like when you reach this goal? 
  • How will you be different?  
If you don't have a vision of what you will be like when you reach your goal, you don't have much of chance of accomplishing the goal. 

2. Develop a Plan of Action. 
Define the specific behaviors and activities that you need to implement to accomplish your goal. If you want to be a better, you must commit to learning how to be a better. Reading, careful study and  learning from others are key action steps to making that should be included in your plan. 

3. Find a Coach or Accountability Partner
If you want to reach your goal, you need to find somebody that can hold you accountable. Find someone that will be honest with you and keep you on track. Ask them to help you stay focused on reaching that goal, and coach you when you start to struggle.

4.  Measure your Progress
Resolutions fail because people fail to measure change over time. Just like a scale measures your weight, all goals need to have some way to be measured. Whether it is quantitative data that can show you numerical progress or the qualitative data of feedback from peers and colleagues, determine the data that you will collect to gauge growth. 

5.  Recommit Every Day
Change is never easy. It challenges us to get out of our comfort zone and be something different from who we currently are. If you want to reach your goal, you have to  recommit to your resolution every day.  If you stick with it, chances are you will reach your goal. We all get weak and have moments where we want to stop.  Keeping the goal in the forefront helps us never give up. 

Hear Me Roar

Resolutions are very important part of the beginning of each new year. If you think about it, you really only have about 70 opportunities to make a New Year's Resolution stick. We forget that the purpose of a resolution is to test our resolve and to challenge us to be a better person, a better spouse, a better parent, or a better leader.  Sadly, many resolutions fade away due to the stress and the busyness of life. Resolutions fail because people say they don't have time when in actuality they fail to make the necessary time to invest in the change. In 2014, I challenge me and you to not make a half-hearted resolution. I challenge all of us to make time to find our "Roar in 1-4".

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Coolest Homework Task

I was assigned a cool piece of homework from my good buddy Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and to be honest it was a timely task, sharing my reflection about me with you.  While I don't consider myself to be very interesting, I do hope that you find my reflections humorous.

Before I get started, I would like to thank Bill for sending me this and for impacting my writing.  Until I met him, I hated to write and didn't think I was very good.  If I hadn't met him (virtually-speaking), I wouldn't be where I am today as a writer.  Thank you, Bill.  You are truly a class act and a teacher whose impact goes far beyond your classroom.

My First Task - 11 Random Facts about Me.

1.  I am blessed to be married to my beautiful wife, Carolyn, who is a police officer.  We were next door neighbors when I was in college and my pick-up line to sweep her off her feet was the following, "What kind of gun do you like to shoot?".  The rest, as they say, is history.

2.  I have 4 children ranging from 19 to 8, and they are my everything.  When I'm not working, I'm with them.  They are a trip and drive me crazy on an hourly basis.

3.  I love to hunt, particularly duck hunt.  While I haven't been as faithful to hunting in the last 3 years, it is a huge release for me.  Yes, I used Duck Commander products long before anyone knew they existed.

4.  Running is my therapy and think-time.  I have a goal to run a half marathon by the end of the year.  I don't think I'll make it by January 1, but I will by March.

5.  Soccer is my favorite sport.  Nothing else comes close.  I played it as a kid, coached it as a dad and love to watch English Premier League football.  Arsenal is probably my favorite of the big teams, but I love to watch the 2nd tier teams pull off upsets.

6.  I love the following movies.

  • Smokey and the Bandit (Yes, Bill.  Jackie Gleason made this a classic.)
  • Lonesome Dove (It's a Texas thing)
  • Braveheart (Ultimate Leadership Movie)
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Timeless Classic)
  • National Lampoons' Christmas Vacation (Christmas can't exist without it)
  • Breakfast Club (Yes, I'm an 80's kid)
7. If I could pack up and go anywhere for a month, it would be Spain, England and Italy.

8. I got my degree in vocal performance and was trained to be an opera singer.

9. My dream job would be a professional hunting guide.

10.  I can't watch Modern Family without hitting the replay button.  Christopher Lloyd is the best writer  since Shakespeare, and can string together a conversation of punch lines. His writing is genius. 

11.  I wouldn't be where I am without my faith in Jesus.  I lean on him everyday.

My Second Task - Answer Bill's Questions

Bill, these questions are hilarious.  Thanks for asking...

  1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black?
    1. Definitely House Blend Black (Don't have time for all that foo-foo stuff)  What the heck is the first thing anyway?
  2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be?
    1. I just completed my first book for submission and have lots of ideas of titles, but currently the proposed title is "The Axiom of Transformational School Leadership".
  3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.”
    1. Don't have time for that.  Sadly, I only read educational and leadership literature.  I am definitely an informational text kinda guy.
  4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?
    1. Bill Ferriter, Mike Mattos, Dan Rockwell, Steven Weber
  5. How do you feel about the holidays?
    1. Our nation has materialized the mess out of Christmas.  I just like to focus on the "Reason for the Season".  I enjoy celebrating in the simplest way possible without all of the craziness.  
  6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version).
    1. Christmas Vacation is the Best.  I really don't really care for the others. #sorry
  7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten?
    1. My son who was born 6 days after Christmas.  2nd place would be a Big Wheel that I got when I was 6.
  8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to?
    1. Make a Wish Foundation.  They deserve it more than anyone.
  9. What are you the proudest of?
    1. My kids.  They are the best creation my wife and I have ever made.  
  10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child?
    1. Wow, there are too many situations to list, so I'll start with my earliest memory.  I'll say my worst trouble as a young kid would be when I practicing my kindergarten writing skills with a red crayon all over my grandmother's white wall.  100 coats of paint couldn't cover it up.
  11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry?
    1. Today, I left a comment on Sam LeDeaux's post called Are you a Leader or a Manager.  I really connected to his post and wanted to add some more thoughts to it.

My Third Task - Questions for You

1.  What is your favorite Christmas tradition and why?

2.  If you could have anyone over for the holidays, who would it be and why?

3.  Flaming hot hot sauce or mild and bland sauce?

4.  Do you root for the underdog or the team predicted to win?

5.  Which person in your PLN do you find most interesting and why?

6.  Which book has made the most profound impact on your life?

7.  What is your favorite decade of all time and what made it the best for you?

8.  What is the best movie of all time?

9.  Which animal best represents your personality and why?

10. What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

11.  What is your New Year's Resolution for 2014?

My Fourth Task - Nominate 11 Bloggers to Join the Homework Club

Add yourself to the list and join the fun

Here is your Task

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Teaching Kids the Highest Leverage Skill

In our standards-based education system, we are engaged in a never-ending effort to teach every high leverage skill. We focus on skills that are so critical that they are foundational for learning standards far into the future.  If you have ever worked with a student that had gaps in his learning, you can instantly tell where his gaps lie. You can quickly identify the skills that he is missing. Some students close gaps quicker than others and some never do. Why is that?  

It is because few kids possess the highest leverage skill. 

Some people feel that reading comprehension, fluency or numeracy are the highest leverage skills, and they are from an academic perspective.  But without the mindset for learning, these skills struggle to grow. 

So what is the highest leverage skill?

Some people look beyond academics and feel that self-confidence is the highest leverage skill. With it, you can do anything. Without it, growth is minimal. Kids, that make the biggest gains, do so because they have been hard-wired to believe in themselves.  This positive image of one's own abilities generates strength and the desire to take risks. Like it or not, self confidence is not the highest leverage skill. 

Some believe persistence is an invaluable skill. To learn difficult concepts, kids must have resolve. They must keep going when they hit the brick wall. Persistence is what turns practice into progress, but I'm sorry to say that while persistence is valuable, it is not the highest leverage skill. 

Enough Already, What is the Highest Leverage Skill?

Hope.  Eric Jensen sited hope as the difference between students of poverty making it or not. Hope is the eternal belief that life will get better. No matter the obstacle, circumstance or barrier, hope of a brighter future is the only thing between a student's reality and his potential.  In short, self-confidence and persistence can't exist unless there's hope. 

How do we teach hope to our kids?

Educators must transform the role of content-instiller into that of hope-builder. We possess massive potential to turn hopelessness into a viable vision. We build hope in students by doing the following things:

1. Help students create their own meaningful pathway to a better life. 
2.  Set challenging but realistic goals to measure progress along the way. 
3.  Guide students to find short-term wins. 
4.  Facilitate student thinking and problem solving through setbacks and losses. 
5.  Teach kids a never-give-up mentality. 

How do educators become hope builders?

1.  Stop thinking about teaching content and start teaching kids.  Content will come once we focus on teaching kids. 
2.  Connect with kids on a human level. Relationships are the pathway to learning. 
3.  Model hope by expressing personal beliefs in students to everyone we encounter. 
4. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. 

Hope is the antibiotic to fear and uncertainty. It is the GPS used to navigate the winding road of success. Hope overcomes obstacles and dissipates doubt. Finally, it is accompanied by faith, joy and love. 

Got hope?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Leading with a Parachute

I had a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to fly in a World War II plane.  Needless to say it was a 'Bucket List' experience.  As we were getting ready to take off in this awesome piece of history, I asked myself this question.  Where is the parachute?  I mean it is a beautiful plane, but what if it breaks down?  What if we take a nose dive?  While I had complete faith in the pilot, I had to ask this question.  After all, we were only talking about my life.

Getting Ready for Flight with
Pilot, Steve Dean
(I'm in back.)

Parachutes are a safety net in case the plane fails.  If we had our choice, we wouldn't want to leave without one.  So if we would feel more comfortable with a parachute on a plane, what about in our leadership?  Wouldn't we feel more comfortable taking off on a leadership venture if we had the security of a parachute?  Wouldn't we would feel more comfortable going out on that limb knowing that we had some sort of safety net in case our plan failed and we needed to bail?  Has anyone ever felt this way?

The fact is this.  No leader wants to jump out there without some kind of insurance.  We all want to know we will be okay if the plan fails.  We all want some type of parachute to protect us as we try to soar into the wild blue yonder.  So what are the different types of parachutes that leaders have in place before letting their leadership ventures take flight? 

Critical Friends
All leaders have critics, but great leaders have critical friends who will tell them things they don't want to hear but need to hear.  Critical friends care about the leader enough to make sure he doesn't crash the plane.

Honest Feedback
Leaders need honest feedback especially when the plane is in flight.  Honest feedback is the altimeter and radar when the leader is flying the plane with zero visibility.

Understanding Teammates
Leaders need empathy from their fellow teammates.  People don't always understand the rationale behind decisions; therefore, the leader has to take time to make sure understanding is in place when a plan is about to take off.

Trusting Relationships
Developing trusting relationships are the key to successful leadership, but this idea couldn't be truer when plans fail.  Relationships save leaders from crashing and burning.

Exit Plan
Not every leadership idea works.  That is why leaders need to make sure they have an exit strategy.  Exit strategies are better than running the entire organization into the ground.

Pulling the Rip Cord

When leaders take time to pack a parachute, chances are they will survive leadership failure.  Leaders don't pack a parachute planning to wreck the plane.  They see the parachute as a required tool in place every time a new idea takes flight.  Most ideas work, but the parachute is in place to make sure that a failed plan doesn't ruin the leader's credibility with the staff , but more importantly doesn't wreck the culture of the organization.  Parachutes only work when the leader pulls the rip cord and that can only be accomplished when the leader is committed enough and humble enough to admit he failed.